If you’ve lived in Tamil Nadu, you probably know the meaning of “Gnana Pazham” (the “zha” being the symbol for the retroflex approximant “LA” in Tamil, now don’t ask us how to read it, only native speakers of Tamil like this writer, can get it right !) Pazham means fruit and Gnanam means wisdom, together the words mean the fruit of wisdom. If someone calls you a Gnana Pazham, it is supposed to mean that you are the epitome of wisdom or intelligence (watch out for any sarcasm before feeling good about it !). The term is believed to have originated from a reference to Lord Muruga.
Pazham nee, Gnana Pazham nee !
So, the popular story goes that once young Lord Muruga and Lord Ganesha fought over a divine fruit and to solve the issue, Lord Shiva asked both of them to go around the world thrice and whoever came back first would get the fruit. Accordingly, Lord Muruga set off on his peacock and quickly went around the world thrice. Thinking that he had won the fruit, he returned to Kailasa to find that Lord Ganesha had won it instead, his strategy – he went around his parents three times, symbolic of his world revolving around his parents ! Disappointed, Lord Muruga renounced the world and settled on a hill. Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, tried to pacify him saying he didn’t need to have the fruit because he himself was the fruit, the Fruit of Wisdom (Pazham nee, Gnana Pazham nee !). The hill where he is believed to have settled as an ascetic has come to be known as Pazhani or Palani and is one of the Aarupadai Veedu temples or the Six Abodes of Lord Muruga.
Thus, this writer narrated the story of Palani to the group as we waited for the other car to join us at Palani. They were atleast 2 hours away. In the meantime, we met our colleague’s father is associated with the temple who was supposed to arrange the darshan for us.
There is no greater God than Food !
It was past lunch time and our colleague’s father, a very kind, noble gentleman, directed us to Hotel Nalapakam. We sat down for lunch and our hearts leapt with joy as a fresh green plantain leaf was spread before us, you might have the best crockery in the world but nothing can beat the feeling of eating a meal on a plantain leaf ! And, if the food tastes like it was prepared in the Heaven’s kitchen, you are sure to see God, right on your table ! That was our experience at Hotel Nalapakam. No wonder they say, “Annam Parabrahma Swaroopam” (Food is a form of God).
By the time we finished our lunch, our group had reached Palani, that should give you an idea of how long we had our meal ! It was their turn for another elaborate lunch, next and it was 4 PM by the time all of us were ready for the darshan. We then met up with the person who would take us for a special darshan and show us around Palani.
(W)inching your way to the top
The Dandayuthapani Murugan Temple at Palani is located on top of a steep hill. To reach the top, you can either climb up the 700 steps, take a rope car or a take a Winch. A winch looks like a tram and runs on a track that extends vertically from the bottom of the hill to the top, the coach is mechanically pulled up the hill by a massive winch rope. We had not heard of a winch before planning our trip to Palani and were quite excited to take a ride until we saw the vertical track !
From the starting point of the winch station, it looked like the steep ascent of a roller coaster ride. Just as we reached the station, one winch started going up and the sight of it slowly crawling vertically against gravity was enough to give some of us a few jitters. We boarded the next winch cautiously and held on to our seats as the winch was tugged up slowly. Inch by inch it climbs up and you keep looking around to see if the winch line/rope doesn’t give away ! What if there is a power cut? Or, the winch derails? Thoughts like this keep coming for some part of the 10 minute ride up the hill as you are hauled up at a slant of almost 80 degrees !
These thoughts don’t occupy your mind for the first few minutes, then the beautiful landscape and scenery takes over. As the winch climbs up the hill, the greenery of the plains is a visual treat. Here is a “creative” picture that one of our guys clicked !
The intention was to capture the slant but the photographer ended up getting the direction of the slant wrong !
As soon as we got off the winch, we were taken to the main temple, Lord Muruga, here, is called Dandayuthapani or the One who holds the Dandam as his weapon (a baton that ascetics carry). The history of the temple at Palani goes back to the Chera times i.e. 1st-2nd Century C.E., the internet says there is a mention of the temple even in the Sangam literature of the period. However, the temple gained popularity under the Pandya rule several centuries later. A major part of the structure built during the Pandya times stands even today though the temple has been renovated today. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, we did not carry our camera and adjusted with our mobile phone.
Unlike the grand temples of Tamil Nadu, the Palani temple is simple. Located on top of the hill, it has some great views and the cool breeze as you walk around the temple is refreshing. We were taken directly inside the temple for a special darshan and were allowed to stand before the idol offer our prayers. The idol of Lord Muruga is a small one where the Lord has been sculpted to look like a small ascetic boy holding a baton. It is believed that the idol was made using Navapashanam or Nine poisonous alloys by a Siddha saint named Bhogar. There is a shrine dedicated to Bhogar in the Palani temple along with shrines for other Dieties.
After spending about 30 minutes going around the temple, we got into the winch again. The ride down was hilarious because the winch slopes down in reverse, it was fun !
We were then taken to the Kulanthai Velayudhar temple located in Palani town, here the idol of Lord Muruga is even smaller than, hardly a feet high and looks very cute ! We reached the temple just in time for the abhishekam and the person who was taking us around, insisted that we waited till the abhishekam was complete. When you stand in the dimly lit temple, watching the abhishekam, hearing people sing devotional songs, waiting for the decoration and the Harathi, you feel time has stood still in the temples of Tamil Nadu, their cultural heritage has remained intact for centuries over.
It was almost 6.30 PM and way past the time by when we planned to leave Palani but we could not refuse the kind people at the temple who were totally immersed in devotion. For all the rational thoughts on beliefs, for some people totally surrendering themselves to the Divine is their ultimate source of joy, their strength through hardships and there is nothing irrational about it.
Finally, we wound up our visit to the temples in Palani, thanked the person who took care of us and our colleague’s father who made all the arrangements for us, considering the peak season at Palani, if it had not been for their help, we would not have had such an easy and memorable time at Palani. Our thanks was refused by the kind people, they even gifted us the famous Palani Panchamritham Prasadam. Panchamritham is made of 5 varieties of fruits and dry fruits and offered to Lord Muruga, no trip to Palani is complete without tasting the Panchamritham !
As per our unplanned plan, both the cars were supposed to head to Madurai from Palani. However, the Accent car guys came up with an idea of going to Kodaikanal instead, do some sightseeing the next day and head to Madurai, followed by Rameswaram. This idea was a bit of a shocker to us, the Figo people, because we had been to Kodaikanal just the year before and also the plan involved a lot of night travel and we were not very much in favour of it. We decided that each group would sketch their own travel plans and keep track of the other till we reached home. So, the Accent turned towards Kodaikanal while the Figo proceeded to Madurai.
Through the 2 hour drive from Palani to Madurai, we discussed several plans because we had thought all of us would be travelling together, now with only three of us, we wondered if we should change the plan. Plan A – Follow the first plan Madurai – Valparai – Kalady – Athirapally and back. B – Madurai – Rameswaram – Dhanushkodi. C – Madurai – Salem – Yercaud and back. D – Dump all plans and drive back to Hyderabad visiting Lepakshi and Rollapadu Bird Sanctuary !
Of the 3 people in the Figo, one pushed for Dhanushkodi having come so close, one liked the Rameswaram idea but was fine with anything, having a good time and travelling was the key and the third one was racking brains trying to come up with a proper plan. Plan B was exciting but the 2 day drive back from Rameswaram to Hyderabad with only one person who could drive looked like a daunting task. After some heated arguments, we settled to go to Yercaud from Madurai and even booked the accommodation over the phone. There was an air of slight disappointment but we were all keen on enjoying our trip.
Feasting at the Temple City
We reached Madurai around 9 PM and stopped at Temple City restaurant on the highway as you enter Madurai. Temple City is a popular chain of restaurants in Madurai, we remember stopping by for lunch at one of their restaurants while driving from Trichy side during our TN trip in 2013. This time, our order included Idly, Dosa, Idiyappam, Chilly Parotta, Veg Kothu Parotta and Kuzhi Paniyaram, South Indian tiffins at their best, especially, the Chilly Parotta, it had been ages since we had the authentic Chilly Parotta ! From Salem to Palani to Madurai, it was a delicious day !
Dinner done, we went in search of Jigarthanda, the iconic beverage of Madurai but it was already 10.30 PM and most stalls were closed and we had to settle for some fresh fruit juice. Finally, we checked in at Hotel Tamil Nadu where we had made reservations, Tamil Nadu Tourism’s hotels are always a safe bet.
While the others quickly turned in for the night, this writer was busy exploring what was in store at Yercaud, what other options were left if not Yercaud, could we include Rameswaram? If yes, what do we do about the 2 day drive back to Hyderabad? Through these thoughts, sleep took over, we did not know that a light bulb moment awaited us the next day !
– Palani being a popular pilgrim centre, finding transport to Palani is not a problem, all major cities and towns are connected to Palani. Madurai is the nearest major city. Dindigul is another important centre close to Palani.
– For information on the temple timings, poojas, winch and rope car timings/fee, accommodation, check the official website of the temple http://www.palanimurugantemple.org
– Apart from the temple accommodation, there are hotels so finding accommodation should not be an issue.
– Palani has moderate crowd for most part of the year except during important festivals like Thai Poosam and Kavadi festival in January/February, Kanda Shasti in October/November, Thirukarthigai or during the December month when several Ayyappa devotees visit Palani. During these festivals, the temple is likely to be overflowing with devotees.
– Kodaikanal is 65 kms from Palani, so if you plan to visit Palani, you could include Kodaikanal in your trip or vice versa. If you are travelling from Palani to Madurai, you will pass through Dindigul, check out the famous Dindigul Biryani.
– Along with Palani, you can cover 2 other Aarupadai Veedu Temples, Pazhamudircholai and Thiruparankundram, both near Madurai. You can plan it as a 2 day trip including temples in and around Madurai.
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